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its Circumstances with Facility and Delight. But I am still in Doubt, whether many Writers, who come nearer to our own Times, have much mended the Matter. What with their Plots, and Double-Plots, and Counter-Plots, and Under-Plots, the Mind is as much perplexed to piece out the Story, as to put together the disjointed Parts of our ancient Drama, The Comedies of Congreve have, in my Mind, as little to boast of Accuracy in their Construction, as the Plays of Shakespeare ; nay, perhaps, it might be proved that, amidst the most open Violation of the lefser critical Unities, one point is more steadily persued, one Character more uniformly shewn, and one grand Purpose of the Fable more evidently accomplished in the Production of Shakespeare than of Congreve.

These Fables it may be further objected) founded on romantick Novels, are unpardonably wild and extravagant in their Circumstances, and exhibit too little even of the Manners of the Age in which they were written. The Plays too are in themselves a Kind of heterogeneous Composition; scarce any of them being, strictly speaking, a Tragedy, Comedy, or even Tragi-Comedy, but rather an indigested Jumble of every Species thrown together.

This Charge must be confessed to be true: But upon Examination it will, perhaps, be found of less Consequence than is generally imagined. These Dramatick Tales, for so we may best stile such Plays, have often occasioned much Pleasure to the Reader and Spectator, which could not possibly have been conveyed to them by any other Vehicle. Many an interesting Story, which, from the Diversity of its Circumstances, cannot be regularly reduced either to Tragedy or Comedy, yet abounds with Character, and contains several affecting Situations: And why such a Story should lose its Force, dramatically related and affisted by Representation, when it

pleases, pleafes, under the colder Form of a Novel, is difficult to conceive. Experience has proved the Effect of such Fictions on our Minds; and convinced us, that the Theatre is not that barren Ground, wherein the Plants of Imagination will not flourish. The Tem- . pest, the Midsummer Night's Dream, the Merchant of Venice, As you like it, Twelfth Night, the Faith. ful Shepherdess of Fletcher, (with a much longer List that might be added from Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and their Cotemporaries, or immediate Succeflors) have most of them, within all our Memories, been ranked among the most popular Entertainments of the Stage. Yet none of these can be denominated Tragedy, Comedy, or Tragi-Comedy. The Play Bills, I have observed, cauticusly stilethem Plays:And Plays indeed they are, truly such, if it be the End of Plays to delight and instruct, to captivate at once the Ear, the Eye, and the Mind, by Situations forcibly conceived, and Characters truly delineated.

There is one Circumstance in Dramatick Poetry, which, I think, the chastised Notions of our modern Criticks do not permit them sufficiently to consider. Dramatic Nature is of a more large and liberal Quality than they are willing to allow. It does not confist merely in the Representation of real Characters, Characters acknowledged to abound in common Life; but may be extended also to the Exhibition of imaginary Beings. To create, is to be a Poet indeed ; to draw down Beings from another Sphere, and endue them with suitable Passions, Affections, Dispositions, allotting them at the same Time proper Employment; to body forth, by the Powers of Imagination, the Forms of Things unknown, and to give to airy Nothing a local Habitation and a Name, surely requires a Genius for the Drama equal, if not superior, to the Delineation of Personages, in the ordinary Course of Nature.

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Shakespeare, in particular, is universally acknowledged never to have foared so far above the Reach of all other Writers, as in those Instances, where he seems purposely to have tranfgreffed the Laws of Criticism. He appears to have disdained to put his free Soul into Circumscription and Confine, which denied his extraordinary Talents their full Play, nor gave Scope to the Boundlesness of his Imagination. His Witches, Ghosts, Fairies, and other imaginary Beings, scattered through his Plays, are so many glaring Violations of the common Table of Dramatick Laws. What then shall we say? Shall we confess their Force and Power over the Soul, shall we allow them to be Beauties of the most exquisite Kind, and yet insist on their being expunged? And why? except it be to reduce the Flights of an exalted Genius, by fixing the Standard of Excellence on the Practice of inferior Writers, who wanted Parts to execute such great Deligns; or to accommodate them to the narrow Ideas of small Criticks, who want Souls large enough to comprehend them

Our old Writers thought no Personage whatever, unworthy a Place in the Drama, to which they could annex what may be called a Seity; that is, to which they could allct Manners and Employment peculiar to itself. The feverest of the Antients cannot be more eminent for the constant Preservation of Uniformity of Character, than Shakespeare ; and ShakeSpeare, in no Instance, supports his Characters with more Exactnets, than in the Conduct of his ideal Beings. The Ghost in Hamlet is a shining Proof of this Excellence.

But, in Consequence of the Custom of tracing thę Events of a Play minutely from a Novel, the Authors were sometimes led to represent a mere human Creature in Circumstances not quite consonant to Nature, of a Disposition rather wild and extravagant, and in both Cases more especially repugnant to modern Ideas. This indeed required particular Indul. gence from the Spectator, but it was an Indulgence, which feldom mifled of being amply repaid. Let the. Writer but onee be allowed, as a neceffary Datum, the Possibility of any Character's being placed in such a Situation, or poffest of fo peculiar a Turn of Mind, the Behaviour of the Character is perfectly natural. Shakespeare, though the Child of Fancy, feldom or never dreft up a common Mortal in any other than the modest Dress of Nature: But many thining Characters in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are not fo well grounded on the Principles of the human Heart; and yet, as they were supported with Spirit, they were received with Applaufe. Shylock's Contract, with the Penalty of the Pound of Flesh, though not Shakespeare's own Fiction, is perhaps rather improbable'; at least it would not be regarded as a happy Dramatick Incident in a modern Play; and yet, having once taken it for granted, how beautifully, nay, how naturally, is the Character sustained !--Even this Objection therefore, of a Deviation from Nature, great as it may feem, will be found to be a Plea insufficient to excuse the total Exclusion of our antient Dramatists from the Theatre. Shakespeare, you will readily allow, poffest Beauties more than neceffary to redeem his Faults; Beauties, that excite our Admiration, and obliterate his Errors. True. But did no Portion of that divine Spirit fall to the Share of our other old Writers? And can their Works be supprefsed, or concealed, without Injustice to their Merit?

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One of the best and most pleasing Plays in Mallinger, and which, we are told, was originally received with general Approbation, is called, The Picture. The Fiction, whence it takes its Title, and on which the Story of the Play is grounded, may be collected from the following short Scene. Mathias, a Gentleman of Bohemia, having taken an affecting Leave

of

of his Wife Sophia, with a Resolution of serving in the King of Hungary's Army against the Turks, is left alone on the Stage, and the Play goes on, as follows :

Math. I am strangely troubled: Yet why should I A Fury here, and with imagin’d Food? [nourish Having no real Grounds on which to raise A Building of Sufpicion she ever was, Or can be false hereafter? I in this But foolishly inquire the Knowledge of A future Sorrow, which, if I find out, My present Ignorance were a cheap Purchase, Though with my Loss of Being. I have already Dealt with a Friend of mine, a general Scholar, One deeply tead in Nature's hidden Secrets, And (though with much Unwillingness) have won To do as much as Art can to resolve me [him My Fate that follows-To my Wish he's come.

Enter Baptista.
Julio Baptifta, now I may affirm
Your Promise and Performance walk together ;
And therefore, without Circumstance, to the Point,
Instruct me what I am.

Bapt. I could wish you had
Made Trial of my Love some other Way.

Math. Nay, this is from the Purpose.

Bapt. If you can,
Proportion your Desire to any Mean,
I do pronounce you happy : I have found,
By certain Rules of Art, your matchless Wife
Is to this present Hour from all Pollution
Free and untainted.

Math. Good.

Bapt. In Reason therefore
You should fix here, and make no farther Search
Of what may fall hereafter.
Mathi O Baptista!

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